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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings-Saints, Round 2

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The Saints-Panthers game should be a little encouraging for our defense. Carolina's secondary looked like it didn't show up for a must of the game. Also, a couple injuries on the Saints offensive line could be key factors next Sunday! I know this is the playoffs, but the Vikings defensive line has to like what they saw on Sunday. Skol! -- Kyle Alexander Texas

I would give Drew Brees and Co. a little more credit than just saying Carolina's secondary didn't show up. Brees looked in command and was sharp from the first snap to the final whistle, and this is also the offense that scored more points (19) on the Vikings than any other team at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2017. Don't get me wrong – I'm optimistic about the Vikings chances for victory on Sunday, but there is nothing about the Saints offensive performance against Carolina that should make anyone think next Sunday will be a walk in the park. It does appear as if starting left guard Andrus Peat suffered a significant injury, so that spot bears monitoring this week and on Sunday. Also, remember that New Orleans was without starting left tackle Terron Armstead for the Week 1 game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Where have the Saints developed most since our first meeting in Week 1? What must the Vikings do to succeed? -- Chris Vaichus Wolcott, CT

Without question it's their deployment of running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Back in Week 1, the Saints also had Adrian Peterson and they were struggling to find the right way to use all three. Since then, the Saints shipped Peterson to Arizona and they've found their groove using the Ingram-Kamara tandem. They combined for 25 touchdowns and over 3,000 scrimmage yards in the regular season, a far cry from how they looked in Week 1. Carolina did a nice job of limiting their production in the Wild Card round, so the Vikings can take a look at some of the Week 1 film and some of what Carolina did yesterday.

The Saints seemed to bend but not break playing some good red zone defense against Carolina. How do you think the Vikings red zone offense can exploit the Saints red zone defense? -- Josh Radzak Dickinson, ND

It's no different than succeeding in the red zone against other teams. Eliminating negative-yardage plays and avoiding getting behind schedule in imperative. Yesterday, the Panthers had a run for no gain on their first red zone possession and they wound up missing a field goal. On the next red zone possession, Carolina had a negative-yardage run and had to settle for a field goal. On the third red zone drive, Cam Newton was sacked and the Panthers had to settle for another field goal. Those are the kinds of mistakes – negative-yardage runs, penalties, sacks – that destroy red zone drives. The Vikings have been very good in the red zone this season – 57.9% touchdown efficiency (ninth in the NFL) – and I expect they'll be good in the red zone on Sunday against New Orleans because they should be getting a healthy Kyle Rudolph back and possibly even a fully healthy offensive line minus Nick Easton.

I've been listening to many comments regarding the Viking offense since the Packers game stating deep concerns that they're not up to a level they need to be in the playoffs. To me, they're simply doing what they need to do to get past the weak Packer and Bear teams without giving away too much of their playoff plans, and to keep the key players from getting hurt. Can I get your take on that? -- Gary Rogers Lemon Grove, CA

There are stats we can look at that would support a cynic's viewpoint, such as the fact that the Vikings scored just nine touchdowns and averaged 4.9 yards per play over the final four games. But there are also numbers we can point to that say the offense is doing just fine, such as the fact they scored three touchdowns against the Bengals and against the Bears and that if they score three touchdowns against about any team they are likely going to win the game. Also, the Vikings furious comeback in the 4th quarter was a good illustration of the juice this year's Vikings offense has. Generally speaking, I feel good about where the Vikings offense is heading into the postseason, especially considering Case Keenum completes 68.9% of his passes, has a 100.1 passer rating and has just two interceptions at home this season. Also, the Saints bring with them the NFL's 15th ranked passing defense and they're coming off a game in which they surrendered 349 passing yards to Newton at home.

I haven't seen Anthony Harris play very much since his super great performance against the Rams. Has he been injured or what? -- James Fortier

Not at all. Harris has played in all 16 games this season, with three starts to his credit. He started in three Vikings wins and made that key play against the Rams near the goal line to thwart a would-be touchdown drive. Harris also started the Packers game at home and the game in London against Cleveland. Aside from a backup on defense, Harris is also a special teams player for the Vikings and has done a nice job in that role.

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